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The On / Off Journalist – Interview with Kanika and Bharatbala May 19, 2008

Posted by astralwicks in Culture, india, music, Vande Mataram.
Tags: , , , , ,

I once was a journalist. Studying in Delhi (1994-99), it was one of the earliest potshots at a career. Writing in college for a newspaper also meant having arrived in one’s meager opinion. So, I wrote a couple of articles for The Statesman for their college beat; one on the relevance of Gandhi and 2nd and final one on the ‘never-changing’ English Literature syllabus of Delhi University. The syllabus was eventually corrected, reflecting 20th and 21st century literary trends and developments, after some 35 odd years!

After that I landed in Mumbai. Tried to make a short film, failed and then the imperatives of survival seduced me once again…to journalism. Dotcom was the buzzword in 1999-2000 and a million start-ups took birth. I joined Dhadkan.com.

It was a place of 4 people. Sidharth (Taparia) owned it. There was Sarika who wrote on Indian classical music and Ghazals. I covered Hindi films and Indi Pop, Purshottam was the techie and Santosh was the peon. Sarika left to be replaced by someone whose name I forget. Later on we had Koshy and Prashant as the graphics guys and a couple of data entry operators. I was a part of Dhadkan from Jan 2000 to March 2001.

In it’s early days we used to have a small office at Fort; it was behind the Handloom House/Bori Masjid. I used to travel from Versova village in Andheri (w) to the station and then catch the local train to Churchgate. Get off and then walk to the office buying a vada pav along the way.

My job was to review new and old Hindi film music and the recent upstart – Indi Pop. During this time I also met or spoke to a number of the old timers, for interviews. Some of them were memorable.

I quit Dhadkan and it too shut down after another year or so. Its search doesn’t yield any results. All my work, I thought, had disappeared. Recently, I discovered to great happiness, some features, interviews and reviews that I had done for Dhadkan.

I have decided to upload some of the interviews so that everybody can read them, again and I don’t lose them. Hope nobody has a problem.

Kanika and Bharatbala

Kanika: What is the angle ‘You’ plan to pursue? Helps me to keep the track, you know.

Q. Were you aware of the controversy at the time Vande Mataram was released?

A. Kanika: No, in fact you are the only person who is saying there was a controversy. We never faced any problem or protest.

Q. Well, at that time the Uttar Pradesh government had plans of making Vande Mataram a part of the school curriculum, a prayer compulsory for all students. And we in college used to hear and partake of these discussions. What about you?

A. We only received congratulatory messages from everyone. There were people who moved on hearing the song and the album wrote back to us saying how proud they were being Indians. That flame of feeling proud was rekindled by Vande Mataram. That’s what gives both of us joy, that it actually made a difference to a lot of people, both in India and abroad.

Q. How did it come about?

A. That’s a very long story. See, we people have an advertising background. Both of us have made our mark making technically savvy and effective campaigns that people remember long after they have seen it. Nescafe, MRF tyres, Hitachi and loads of them.

After ten years or so and having earned lots of money, which can have an adverse effect at a young age, we wanted to do something than the run of the mill that we were doing so effortlessly.

Around the same time preparations were on to celebrate India’s 50th Year of Independence. Bala’s father was a freedom fighter and he was increasingly critical of the present generation as they were about to embark on a national festival about which, in his opinion most had little or no knowledge. He used to give example’s of exemplary courage shown by people under the British rule and rue the callousness of the present generation who enjoyed “Freedom” without understanding what it means and entails.

It was he who gave the initial idea of Vande Mataram filling us with the background of the term and what a simple phrase could do to unite a nation and it’s people.

Q. So, he was the principal inspiration for Vande Mataram

A. Yes, we now had something to start work on. But how and to what extent was not known even to us. We were sure of only one more thing. We always wanted to work on an idea and make it widely acceptable. So, without the commercial implications of the term Brand and Product, India became the Brand and Vande Mataram became its product. The entire world and not just Indians had to notice India and it’s people, not in a flashy commercial, Bollywood kind of way, without falsifying it’s people or places. That was going to be maintained and respected at all costs. And that is what people saw and felt after seeing Vande Mataram.

It was going to be a multi – media experience with almost everybody in the country watching the same thing at the same time. Nobody was to be left out in this experience and nobody did. It was, as if, the entire country were watching the same thing.

Q. You are an editor yourself, did you have a notion as to what would constitute the superfluous in this endeavour?

A. I came into edition via direction. In fact, I have co – directed both Vande Mataram and Jana Gana Mana. Anyway, we had no idea as to what we would keep finally and what would be extra. Every morning we would get into a taxi with our camera and roam the entire day shooting any and everything that came to our notice and attention. There were no self – imposed constraints. And the footage that we have seems to be inexhaustible. Even now, I keep making films from the footage that we shot then.

Q. Do you think, Vande Mataram could have happened at any other point in time?

A. Meaning.

Q. India was witnessing what people call a Right – Wing resurgence, then riots and even at this point in time we were a nation on the verge of realizing it’s potential, which made itself more visible in the new century.

At this point in time Bala, who all the while was busy joined the conversation.

A. Bala: Very good question. We have actually never thought of it from this angle. In hindsight, yes, technology also was immensely responsible to maintain the magnitude of visibility without making it obscene, which was beautifully achieved by us.

Q. Do you think you have killed the proverbial Golden Goose. Two patriotic themes have been sold already?

A. We strictly refuse to come under this definition of having exploited national sentiments to make money. After a secure and relatively easy ride to the top of the ad world, we staked everything in making Vande Mataram. People used to laugh when we used to tell them about our plans. But we stuck to it, without any help or support and finally Sony came forward and we were vindicated.

And what money are people talking about. We could have earned loads of money selling Vande Mataram. We have received enormous offers. Even now we give our India specific stock free to anyone who wants it. We have showed it free almost to everybody.

Q. People don’t know because inspite of having a huge impact you have never tried to claify these nitty – gritties?

A. Yes, that’s because we know what we are doing and how we are going about it.

Q. What is the kind you music you listen to?

A. Kanika: You would be shocked and I, ashamed. I listen to whatever the Young people are listening at this point in time. Whether it is Aqua, Whigfield, Spice Girls anything, I don’t have any problems. My target audience primarily consists of young people and I should know what their preferences are. I have not listened to Beethoven, Mozart and other Classicists, I might in the future when I am equipped, but not right now.

Q. I have friends who like the Tamil version of Vane Mataram better, although they are from the Hindi belt?

A. Means we have succeeded. I had written the lyrics of it in Tamil on which Mehboob worked. Very simple, Yahan Wahan, Sara Jahan Dekha’. It could have been a simple love song between a boy and a girl. For this man, his country is his beloved. I like when things have more than one meaning even in an obvious manner.

Q. Who have been your influences, musically?

A. Kanika: I have listened to a lot of music, but Rahman wins. That guy is amazing. Bala knows him from a long time and he used to work with him on ads. When we came with the idea of Vande Mataram, he was enthused like few people I have known and seeing him work is a learning experience. The immense knowledge he has about music and the frenzy with which he approaches his work. He in my opinion is my greatest musical influence.

Q. Isn’t the CD set slightly elitist?

A. Bala: No, one gets the video of Jana Gana Mana. Plus there is the book, which is of international quality. It is worth every penny. A normal CD comes for 400 plus, so this is all within limits.

Q. What is this fascination with Ladakh

A. Ladakh, yes. We used to visit Ladakh after a very hectic period in Mumbai or anywhere. It is one place that makes one know the person inside you. The vast emptiness makes you realize how puny, insignificant and irrelevant our search in life is. It makes me feel small and humble. One needs it once in a while to get one’s bearings, otherwise success can easily kill you.

Remember the horse running in Vande Mataram Part II, sung by Lata Mangeshkar, those are the kinds of images that Ladakh and if you look carefully, the entire country offers you. So powerful, simple and direct.

Q. No problems with the artistes?

A. No, not really. All of them were keen to go to Ladakh with their instruments in the wind and cold. They were very helpful otherwise an album of this magnitude wouldn’t have got over this easily.

Q. What are your future plans

We are making India’s first IMAX film, which will be simultaneously released in 300 cinema halls across the globe. We are working on it although it is going to take us some time.

Interviewed by Srikant Malladi circa 2000-2001 at B&K offices



1. myexpression - May 20, 2008

too good astral… very good read…i’m looking forward to more stuff… wondering what you do in life now… are u still asking questions to others or u’ve internalized it…

2. gudus - May 20, 2008

digging up the past…hmmm…he’s digging up the past now

great stuff again dude.

3. dogstail - May 20, 2008

Very good as usual. You should start thinking on commercial angles.

4. astralwicks - May 21, 2008

@myexpression i am still asking questions or at least i think i do. @dogstail and gudus thanks.

5. Adnan Sami Interview by The On / Off Journalist « freebird - June 2, 2008

[…] 2, 2008 The history of the On / Off Journalist and the 2 previous interviews are available at Kanika & Bharatbala and […]

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